Jessie Wardarski / APNursing home workers cheer as Corey Cappelloni completes his seventh ultramarathon in seven days in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on June 19, 2020. Cappelloni ran roughly 218 miles from Washington, D.C., to Scranton to visit his 98-year-old grandmother and raise awareness for patients in isolation amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Jessie Wardarski / AP)
Endurance athlete Corey Cappelloni once ran six days through the Sahara Desert in what’s considered the most grueling foot race on Earth.
But a 218-mile run to grandma after she came down with COVID-19 turned out to be the longest, toughest and most rewarding of his life.
Cappelloni spent seven days covering the distance from his home in Washington, D.C., to the nursing home where 98-year-old Ruth Andres lives in his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, arriving June 19 to cheers, flags and purple balloons, her favorite color.
Dozens of workers at the Allied Services Skilled Nursing & Rehab Center applauded as he crossed the finish line.
Out of breath but smiling, he pointed to “Nana’s” fourth-floor room, where she peered through the window. A sign hung outside read, “I Love You Corey.”
“Nana, you’re a strong person,” Cappelloni said into a cellphone and microphone, as a nurse held up the other end of the line to Andres. “You’re going on 99, and you still have many more miles.”
Unable to visit in person, he promised to give her a long-awaited hug soon.
Cappelloni’s “Run for Ruth” has raised more than $24,000 so far for smartphones and tablets to help patients isolated due to the pandemic communicate with loved ones.
It also aimed to raise awareness about residents and caregivers in such facilities, many of which have been hit hard by the coronavirus, and to honor the lives lost, including Cappelloni’s great-uncle Charles Gloman, who died May 11.
Should we do more for isolated COVID-19 patients?
Andres was diagnosed in early June. She began running a high fever, was too weak to talk some days and had to get supplemental oxygen.
Cappelloni, who was calling daily, noticed she was becoming more and more afraid.
“She was no longer able to have family, visitors, friends visit her,” he said. “And she became a little depressed, so I knew that I had to do something to try to uplift her spirits.”
At first he sent photo books from his travels around the world. Then his girlfriend, Susan Kamenar, had an idea: What if he ran to her?
So he set out northward along trails and streets, through forests and residential neighborhoods. Kamenar followed behind in an RV.
Cappelloni had been training for an ultramarathon scheduled for mid-March, but he pulled out because of the pandemic. He ran an ultramarathon in Peru in December, and was still in good shape.
But even though he’d previously finished races like the more than 150-mile Marathon des Sables in Morocco,